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What does a monster look like?

March 23, 2010

So, given I am functioning on a few hours sleep and trying to dig myself out from many looming writing deadlines, today’s post will be rather simple and brief. And, given that my writing/speaking obligations are very hefty for the next several months I am in hopes you, dear readers, can liven things up and expand on my limping brain power in comment threads…

I am making some updates to the blog, and one thing I changed was how comments from people without gravatars will appear in threads. Seeing as Edward is a self-proclaimed monster, I chose the “monsterID” option as the default avatar setting. Alas, the images are rather cartoonish, with not a hint of vampire or werewolf. Here is a sample:

Hmmm, looks more like a piece of toast with legs than a monster.

But, what DO monsters look like?

If I had to list the top five adjectives that leap into my brain upon hearing that question, I would say scary, demented, mean, gruesome, and frightening. Of these, our two male lead monsters from the Twilight saga only seem “scary” and “frightening”  – with “demented” sometimes appropriate (as in Edward’s more nefarious behavior and Jacob’s seething-mass-of-wolf-testosterone tendencies). I wouldn’t say either of them are mean or gruesome — in fact, they are downright sweethearts on the monster scale.

Then again, neither of them truly look like monsters — unless you think male specimens leaning towards the very attractive side look monstrous.

So, what does a “real” monster look like? Are traditional vampires more monstrous looking? What does Meyer’s departure from the ugly/scary monster indicate or suggest? Do you like your monsters “perfect” like Edward, ab-tacular like Jacob, or hairy and scary like the wolfman? And, are Edward and Jacob “real” monsters? Who in the text is truly monstrous? Are we all, on some levels at least, truly monstrous?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Misha permalink
    March 24, 2010 3:37 am

    I think REAL monsters are those that don’t look like monsters at all. The most innocent looking, quiet ones that wait in the shadows and kill young women are today’s monsters. Monsters are violent and relentless but not always obvious. Now FICTIONAL monsters are most FUN when they’re like the ones in Monster’s Inc….all fuzzy and friendly. Kind of like Jacob!!

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      March 25, 2010 4:18 pm

      I agree with you that serial killers, rapists are in monsters, but would also note that this is somewhat a perversion of the term monster which comes from demonstrate… So it was a “looks based” conception which got associated with how those that look liked monsters acted.

      I love Monsters, INC too — and the more recent Monsters and Aliens — and, yes, Jacob! I prefer warm monsters over cold marble statues…

  2. March 24, 2010 6:26 pm

    Monsters are among us and they thrive within the realm of our perceptions. The appearance of those monsters change according to the culture wherein we live. For example, during Dante’s time, monsters were horned, tailed, pitchfork carrying devils that were evoked by the huge influence of the Catholic Church. To the Jewish community, monsters were the golems who stalked the land doing the bidding of the conjurer. Even further back in time, Grendel, the monster in “Beowulf,” personified the fear of the unknown to a primitive people.

    The present culture always defines the monster of the moment; indeed, the monster is a reflection of societal fears and what that society terms as “the grotesque.” Misha hinted at the serial killers, and they are the monsters of our time. The unknown in this case is the psyche of a person that is twisted in such a way that makes comprehension of it impossible. These killers possess a brutality and savagery that is repulsive to our senses, so that even those killers who walk into a McDonalds and open fire are monsters to us.

    Regarding our “Twilight Saga” monsters, I do not see either Edward or Jacob as monstrous. Even as they are so vastly different and embody a transformation that could be considered monstrous, their personae exonerate them. Bram Stoker created the vampire that is dominant in our minds, or was until “Twilight.” The undead, stalking and parasitically living off their victims, sapping the life force, the blood, from their human prey, making that prey, at times, into another undead, For the moment, I will leave Victorian culture aside and focus on the present, but make no mistake, the vampire is purely a textual construct that has pervaded our minds and that has transcended myth into legend. And werewolves? These creatures can be traced to the ancient Romans and Greeks who were the first to write of lycanthropy. But Jacob is not a true werewolf–he is a shape shifter and an extension of the Protean myth of ancient Greece. He takes the form of the wolf, that creature which was monstrous for ages among explorers, pioneers, and people who lived isolated within an unknown, to them, environment.

    What saves Edward and Jacob from monstrosity is their penchant for loving. They both love Bella and would do anything for her. But towards society, neither male would condescend to harm anyone unnecessarily. Jacob and his clan are protectors and Edward’s family are vampire “vegans,” consuming only the blood of animals. What Stephanie Meyer has done is that she has taken roles that were historically perceived as monstrous and recreated them into what is seen as present day heroes: protectors of the environment and the creatures that live there.

    But who are the monstrous beings of “Twilight?” They are the ones who are written as the more traditional supernatural caricatures in literature and in film. They are the ones with the red eyes that signal their true nature. The Volturi are wicked, giving into their nature, slaughtering large numbers of people in order to perpetuate their own immortality. They also recreate reality so that their will dominates others; this insidiousness is seen when the opportunity to destroy another coven, the Cullens, presents itself through the mistaken identity of the child, Renesmee.

    Also, we see others within the books equally as monstrous. The newborn vampires are creatures who give themselves over to their most primitive urges, lacking control or morality in their quest to ease their thirstiness for blood. Of course, we see James, Laurent, and Victoria in the same manner, but as they are more mature vampires, their cunning, ruthlessness, and selfishness makes them monstrous, much like our present day stalker-killers. Victoria’s desire for vengeance transforms her into the most monstrous of the three, as her mission to kill Bella has nothing to do with Bella, per se. What she wants is to remove the “silly,” inconsequential human from the life of Edward, and she will do anything, including making and manipulating more creatures like herself.

    Let us not forget about those vampires who Jasper encountered in the Southern US and Mexico. The Southland Wars were the result of an attempt to control the best sources for human blood. People were seen as cattle, and the more people concentrated in one area, the more valuable they became. Jasper, himself, became one of those creatures for about a century, until his conscience and an opportunity to escape that life prevailed. Yet, despite his past and his attack on Bella, we do not see him as monstrous. He appears the victim of another’s will to dominate and also, to his own weaknesses. He is still learning how to be a Cullen, and it is with great anguish that he appears contrite over his actions towards Bella.

    What determines our present day monstrousness? Our monsters stand apart from us, incomprehensible, living in the shadows of our consciousness, and personifying the qualities we deem as unexplainable evil. Edward may term himself as a monster, but we know his self-image to be false. Jacob evolves from self-loathing to contentment over his inherited abilities, and yet, we know from the beginning that he could never be a monster. Our monsters are the subconscious fears that our society has endowed upon us, but make no mistake, they are just as fierce and as terrifying as those creatures who once invaded the imaginations of old.

    • Misha permalink
      March 25, 2010 3:01 am

      Damn! That’s an essay. Props!

  3. Roxie permalink
    March 25, 2010 9:07 pm

    I’m a huge Buffy fan. The monsters in Buffy vary wildly, from vampire, zombies, demons…whatever Adam was, to the mundane human.

    The monsters that always scarred me the most (and I do mean, finger tingling, mouth breathing fear) where the human villains. Warren, mostly. His blatant misogyny and sexism that was often couched in a shy “good guy” facade. He absolutely chilled me, b/c I’ve known that guy. That guy who seemed kinda normal, if a little less confident than he’d like, who’d all of a sudden say something glaringly sexist. And if you pointed it out, he’d try anything to make you believe you’re just overreacting and he’s just kidding.

    I spent time on internet forums (video gamers) with guys who talked just like that. Like if they could just frakenstein their perfect woman, everything would be right. That they’re just shy good guys, but all women are horrendous cruel & evil bitches.

    Another similar Whedon monster appeared in Angel. And while I can’t remember his name I will always remember his power. He was cool, smooth, & seemingly harmless, but his touch would burn misogyny into people. The results where terrifying and nearly always deadly. Too real

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      March 30, 2010 2:16 pm

      I agree that that human monsters are often scarier than monster monsters! And misogyny monsters are very scary — and, alas, unfortunately, very common!


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